Florida’s Gainesville Raceway is a Kalitta Motorsports kind of dragstrip.
It still is after Sunday’s Top Fuel final round of the Amalie Oil Gatornationals.
Capping the Gatornationals’ Silver Anniversary 24 years ago, in 1994, was the historic Top Fuel round in which Connie Kalitta defeated Scott Kalitta in the NHRA’s first father-son final round. Doug Kalitta, Connie’s nephew and the late Scott’s cousin, won the Top Fuel trophy in 2000 and 2005. Dave Grubnic gave the organization another victory in 2006. Scott Kalitta was runner-up twice but never earned a Gainesville victory.
Richie Crampton, driver of the DHL Dragster, carved some history of his own here Sunday in the Golden Anniversary of this East Coast classic, one he said is “like the East Coast Winternationals.”
Scoring a holeshot victory over Clay Millican, Crampton joined a list of legends in becoming the seventh driver to register back-to-back Gatornationals victories.
Capping a weekend that spotlighted eight of the sport’s icons (including some who pulled off the feat), Crampton is the only active Top Fuel driver to earn consecutive victories at Gainesville. Tony Schumacher (2007-08), Larry Dixon (2001-02), Eddie Hill (1992-93), Darrell Gwynn (1989-90), Shirley Muldowney (1981-82), and Don Garlits (1977-78) also achieved the distinction.
“It’s pretty hard for me to fathom right now, to do anything similar to what those legends have done in their careers. It means a lot. I think it’s going to take quite a while for this one to sink in. I’m by no means like the legends before me who have won back to back. I’m just lucky,” Crampton said.
With his ninth triumph in 11 final rounds, Crampton made another argument that he’s a master of the “big races.” But he said he can’t explain why he has been on his game at the right times.
“I’ve been lucky enough to win the 60th U.S. Nationals, now the 50th Gatornationals,” he said. “I don’t know why I’m so lucky and why I have such a great team. It puts me in a position to win like this.”
He credited his crew chiefs – team owner Connie Kalitta, Rob Flynn, and Kurt Elliott – and said he was mindful that he could match his boss’ milestone Sunday.
He said Scott Kalitta “has definitely been on my mind a lot. We’ve got Colin Kalitta hanging out with us this weekend, one of Scott’s sons who’s living here in Florida. Leading into this race, I was kind of watching old videos of that particular race where Connie raced Scott in the final round here. The history with Kalitta and this racetrack is pretty impressive, and it’s pretty nostalgic to watch Connie win here in that old video. To have him put me in the winners circle, that was something that kind of came full circle. Pretty good company to be in. We’re going to try to do it again next year.”
Winning 50th Gatornationals Wally trophies, too, were Robert Hight (Funny Car), Bo Butner (Pro Stock), and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
This year Crampton has lost twice to Terry McMillen in the first round. But Sunday, in Race No. 3 of 24 on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour, the Australian-born naturalized U.S. citizen advanced past Antron Brown, Leah Pritchett, and T.J. Zizzo.
He defeated Millican, relying on a .042-second reaction time to make his 3.769-second elapsed time at 323.89 mph to top Millican’s 3.756, 324.67 in the Great Clips/ Strutmaster Dragster for Straightline Strategy Group. Millican launched in .058 of a second.
Crampton’s margin of victory was .0032 seconds, or about 18 inches. That was enough to vault him from 10th place in the standings to a tie with Phoenix winner Billy Torrence for fourth place. Doug Kalitta continues to lead the points chase as the tour heads back west to Las Vegas for some four-wide action April 5-7 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Millican, of Drummonds, Tenn., was seeking his fourth NHRA victory and first since last year’s Route 66 Nationals at Joliet, Ill.
He also was looking to make a statement with a first NHRA victory with crew chief Mike Kloeber. The tandem won six consecutive IHRA championships and a record 52 victories.
Strong rookies Austin Prock and Jordan Vandergriff, as well as two-time Gatornationals winner Doug Kalitta, were Millican’s victims Sunday on his way his first final-round appearance here since 2013.
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019